The Sugar Debate: FDA Says No More Than 50 Grams of Added Sugar Daily

The sugar debate has been going on for a while now: how much sugar is too much? The Food and Drug Administration  has issued their opinion: Americans should not consume more than 50 grams of sugar per day, assuming the average diet is around 2,000 calories. That means that up to 10 percent of calories can come from sugar in a healthy diet.

Currently, Americans consume around 14 percent of calories from sugar, so the change may not be excessive. Fifty grams, or the recommended maximum, is equal to around 12.5 teaspoons, or the amount of sugar in one 12 ounce can of Coca Cola.

Consuming excessive amounts of sugar has been shown to increase chances of certain illnesses, like Type 2 diabetes or cardiovascular disease. It can also lead to obesity, and it can affect things like energy levels and attention spans, especially when children are taught that eating a lot of sugar is okay early in life.

What Is Added Sugar?

The difference between naturally occurring sugar and added sugar can be stated simply; naturally occurring sugar is found in whole, unprocessed foods like milk, fruits, vegetables, and grains, and added sugar is put into processed foods when they are made, or processed.

The FDA has placed a limit on the amount of added sugar recommended for Americans, but currently, food labels don’t differentiate between naturally occurring sugar and added sugar. The FDA says that it would like to change labeling requirements so that the kinds of sugar can be easily differentiated, but the changes haven’t been instituted yet.

Hidden Sources of Sugar

Do you know how much sugar you’re consuming daily? A lot of sugar that Americans consume is hidden, sometimes in foods that are thought of as ‘healthy’, like fruit flavored yogurt.

Some of the most common sources of hidden sugars in the United States include the following.

  • Sweetened beverages, including soft drinks
  • Condiments, like ketchup, pasta sauce, and salad dressing
  • Snack foods
  • Fat-free and low-fat foods

Some of the most common places that added sugars hide are in artificial sweeteners, like sugar, honey, and high fructose corn syrup. Sugars can be listed in nutrition facts as one of around 30 different things, so changes to labeling requirements may help consumers to make better decisions.

Overall, it’s up to consumers to make healthy and informed decisions regarding their own diets. The best way to avoid added sugars is to eat more whole, unprocessed foods.

Food Presentation Can Lead to Healthier Selections in Cafeterias

There has been a push in the last several years for cafeterias to offer healthier food options. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, for example, passed new regulations in 2012 requiring more whole grains, fruits, and vegetables in school cafeterias.

However, once the food is there, it’s up to patrons to make healthy choices when building a plate. A cafeteria can make a few simple changes to encourage these healthier choices.

How can things like rearranging food options, adding labels and information about options, and offering trays with small dishes make such a difference?

Know Your Patrons

First, it’s important to remember who will be going through the line in your cafeteria. In a middle school, children are likely to make decisions about food selection on their own.

Children and adults are drawn to different kinds of food and different displays, so encouraging healthy eating is different, depending on your patrons.

For example, a tactic used by grocery stores to encourage purchasing certain products is to place them at eye level. For children, this means that healthier options should be near the lower shelves, while adults are more likely to notice them on the middle shelves.

Children are also more likely to react to more colorful foods, and those that are well designed. For example, placing a sample dish with healthy, colorful options, and making a face on the plate might encourage children to mimic the display.

Adults, on the other hand, are less likely to be influenced by the way the food is designed, and prefer fewer foods and colors on their plates. However, making healthy food attractive and easy to see will encourage adults to select these items. Fresh, quality fruits and vegetables are bright and colorful on their own, so simply placing them in a visible area can encourage adult patrons to choose them.

Use Small Plates

One of the biggest issues that leads to unhealthy eating choices is portion size. Small plates fill up faster than large ones, which can encourage patrons to eat smaller portions or to choose fewer selections, ultimately, leading to healthier eating choices.

Put Healthy Options in High Traffic Areas

When a hungry patron comes into a cafeteria, they are most likely to fill their plate with the first things they notice. Placing healthy foods, like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, in a high traffic area like the entrance to the cafeteria line will encourage more people to eat these foods.

Similarly, placing easy to grab health foods, like apples, bananas, or pears near the checkout counter – another high traffic area – is a great way to encourage patrons to select these items on their way out.

Add Labels and Descriptions

It is important to label all foods in a cafeteria, but the depth of the food descriptions can make a difference in whether or not the food is selected.

The name of the food should, of course, be the first thing on the label to help patrons recognize the food. The more descriptive the name, the more likely an adult patron is to select the food item.

Cafeterias that include health claims on food items may also find that those foods are selected more often, because the description encourages the patron to think about long term effects about what they’re eating now.

Offer Express Checkout

In public cafeterias, offering a healthy express checkout can be an incentive for patrons to fill their plates with healthy options. A checkout line may only serve patrons who are eating both fruits and vegetables, or who fill a certain portion of their plate with greens. Either way, this checkout line is reserved only for healthy eaters.

Hunger Free Vermont Calls UVM Survey Inaccurate

Written by Milt Miller – Marissa Parisi, Executive Director of Hunger Free Vermont, calls the recent study conducted by the University of Vermont (UVM) inaccurate and outdated. She (Ms. Parisi) states that the study was conducted only in spring semester 2012 and again in the spring of 2013, to show a before and after picture of what was happening the first year of the new guidelines. The study conducted by the University of Vermont, filmed what students were taking for lunch and also filmed what they were actually throwing into the trash. The study was conducted at two schools in Vermont during the spring semester of 2012 and again in the spring of 2013. Based on the dates the study was conducted and noting the fact that the results were published in 2015, yes the data is of a historical nature showing the results at the beginning of the guidelines implementation and the year after. Ms. Parisi said, “All of us working in the school nutrition and food security field were blindsided by a study published last week by University of Vermont researchers claiming that children were throwing out more fresh fruits and vegetables from their school lunches after an increase in nutrition requirements was implemented in the fall of 2012.” She further stated, “The new guidelines require a larger variety of fresh fruits and vegetables be served to children along with whole-grain-rich breads and pasta, lean proteins, and low-fat milk. The new guidelines also require children to take at least a small amount (one-half cup) of fruit and or vegetable on their tray to encourage them to eat these healthy foods. That was a big change for children and schools. As everyone who has ever tried to change their diet can attest, it takes time and creativity to make a lasting change.”

While I agree that the data released on fruit and vegetable consumption in schools was of a historical nature, the thought processes behind them were correct. It appears the researchers were questioning the sagacity of forcing students to take unwanted items which resulted in waste. The survey further stated that educational programming and serving fruits and vegetables in a manner more acceptable to students would improve upon these waste issues. The survey further pointed out that, patience, nutrition education, and time would solve these issues. As far as being blindsided by the study, unless you don’t have any contact with the media, one should be aware of the issue as it has been bandied since the guidelines implementation. The SNA has published this issue at least twice in its position papers. Medical journals nationwide have discussed this issue. Blog posts on this issue go online every day, how can this survey’s results be considered as blindsiding?

Ms. Parisi went on to state that, “It has taken time, patience, and encouragement, but across the board both locally and nationally school nutrition staff and advocates have seen increased consumption of fruits and vegetables in our schools. There are now many more opportunities for farm-to-school programming, and Sen. Patrick Leahy has co-sponsored the Farm to School Act of 2015 to significantly increase grant funding for schools to expand their farm-to-school activities. Thanks to the perseverance and dedication of school food service personnel, healthier, fresher, and often local food is now being consumed by children in school cafeterias every day.” Consumed by or being served to children in school cafeterias every day? That is the big question and the heart of this issue as I see it.

The UVM survey said there was improvement and this improvement would continue over time. The Harvard School of Public Health survey sited by Ms. Parisi, stated that “students were taking more fruit and actually eating more vegetables put on their tray.” Of course they are taking more fruit it is mandatory that they do. They are eating or trying more vegetables, which shows improvement, but there is still an issue with the amount of fresh fruits and vegetables being wasted. Ms. Parisi claims that the UVM survey was only conducted at two Vermont schools, but she doesn’t mention that the Harvard survey only included 2,200-3,000 students (about the same amount) and was also conducted in one state like the Vermont survey. What gives the Harvard survey more credibility in providing data reflecting a national trend in school food? Could it be the manner in which the actual data was presented by each survey? Surveys can and are made to say anything by manipulating the data or only asking certain questions. The fact is we have two surveys with inner related findings that indicate, that while consumption is increasing, there is still waste above what is deemed an acceptable or normal industry amount. Let’s fix the problem and stop looking for surveys to prove one side or the other’s point.

I am an advocate for child nutrition and the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act for the most part. I believe, and all surveys that I am familiar with and I have seen many studies that show, providing more choices of fresh fruits and vegetables, placing them strategically to facilitate making healthier choices, and educating students about good nutrition, in time will win the day. This point has been shown to be true by both the Harvard and the BEN studies mentioned by Ms. Parisi. Forcing students to take items they do not want results in waste. Do they take more of these items than before, when they weren’t forced to do so? Yes. Does this cause waste and increased plate cost? Yes. If students are trying the fresh vegetables we make them take, this is a step in the desired direction. Is waste still an issue resulting in excess food cost? Yes.

Instead of admitting that yes there are some areas of concern that need to be addressed, we deny the issues and vilify anyone seeking reform. We accuse them of trying to trash the entire program when all they are asking for is compromise on issues that are causing school programs financial and participation declines. “Members of Congress are just as guilty of not co-operating, posturing themselves between the budget and the needs of America’s children. Is the entire issue totally about party politics? Will there always be waste in the food industry? Yes. Is the level we are currently at in this program an acceptable level? No. Are students struggling to adapt to the new tastes and textures? Yes. Are nutrition education and more nutritious food choices necessary for our children’s future well-being? Yes. Why can’t we just work together to solve the problem. Is compromise dead in America? You tell me. An overwhelming amount of data indicates that the greatest strides toward good nutrition have been with younger children, who will grow up seeing no real differences and being more acceptable to the changes. In the end better health through making healthy food choices will be the norm.

I witness compromise produce a win-win situation every time I visit my daughter. She has two young sons, one readying for preschool the other readying to walk. The oldest eats anything that doesn’t out run him and the second, while a healthy eater has some reservations. My daughter believes in exposing her children to fresh, nutritious, healthy foods. The boys are both learning to make healthy food choices due to this exposure at home. They both do not always eat their fruits and vegetables at meal time. Rather than fight, my daughter uses fruits and vegetables as snacks. She doesn’t force them to take or eat what they don’t want and everybody gets what they need in the end. Compromise. The youngest son has an aversion to fresh steamed peas. If they are not presented to him with the texture he desires he spits them across the table. No matter how many times you put them in his mouth you get the same result. Does she keep shoveling them in and telling everyone at the table he really is eating them it just appears like he is not? No, she found another brand of peas he prefers over her homemade ones, just as nutritious, and now he eats them. Compromise. I have learned a great deal about how children respond to being forced to take something they don’t want to eat, by watching my grandsons. I see that forcing them results in waste. I also see that exposure to nutritious foods in the

home plays a major role in developing healthy eating habits in children, but that discussion is for another day.

I realize that my survey on child nutritional behaviors has a data set of only two and would not be credible to Ms. Parisi, but it seems to confirm the results found in the other surveys I have mentioned. I sometimes wonder how people lose their observation skills after they have raised their children. I also wonder if all of the child nutrition gurus’ force fed their children fresh fruits and vegetables. Did they tether them to a chair and stuff them with green leafy vegetables and exotic fruits, or did they expose them to nutritious food, educate them on making healthy choices, and hope for the best like the rest of us?

For the implementation of the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act, I must say thank you Michelle Obama. This was a much needed change in this country. Are there flaws? Yes, but not so many it needs to be scrapped, just softened a bit to make it more palatable to all involved. I hope when Congress resumes sessions they fix the bugs and leave the basic principles alone. I don’t quite understand all of the fighting, posturing, and finger pointing that surrounds this issue. Make healthy choices more readily available and more student friendly, soften some policies to eliminate waste and increase participation, increase federal reimbursements to off-set increased food costs, and last, but certainly not least, consider what children want to eat instead of telling them what they must eat. Perhaps some compromise and Common Sense.

Milt Miller is the Principal and Chief Innovator at Milton Miller Consulting. Throughout his 32 years in the food service industry he has managed, operated and assisted food service programs to become successful. For more information on this and other topics, contact Milt at;